No expansionism now

PM Modi visited one of the forward locations in Leh on Friday. Image source: Twitter/BJP

What ever good estimation I have for Narender Modi as our country’s Prime Minister, has multiplied by a million times by his visit to Ladakh. I visit Ladakh where the oxygen level is far less than the national capital and take tablets to supplement oxygen and rest at least twenty four hours. Prime Minister Modi, despite age and health factor was seen walking like a youngster, meeting and greeting the army soldiers on the frontier and in the hospital. A Prime Minister who has passion and conviction to lead the nation from the front, took the briefing of the ground zero on the ground itself. India  is united at this moment of China-India stand off and is behind the PM to call off the Chinese bluff both militarily and diplomatically.

Modi while paying glowing tributes to the 20 Indian soldiers killed in the Galwan Valley, said, tales of their bravery and valour were echoing in every part of the country. “Your courage is higher than the heights where you are serving today… Not only me, the entire nation believes in you. We all are proud of you,”

“The era of expansionism is over”, emphasised the Prime Minister Narendra Modi,who made a surprise visit to Leh on Friday, while addressing soldiers deployed on China border.

Modi’s assertions are seen as a strong and direct message to Beijing after the June 15 clash with troops of China’s People’s Liberation Army, in which 20 Indian soldiers were killed in the strategic Galwan Valley. Modi, accompanied by CDS and army chief made an unannounced visit to Ladakh, Friday, to get first-hand information about the LAC situation. He was briefed on military preparedness by top Army brass, including Northern Command chief in Nimu.

Ladakh is the head of the country. This is the symbol of pride for 130 crore citizens of India. This land belongs to the people who are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice,” said Modi. Seeing women Army officers in the front row, the PM said: “I am looking at women soldiers in front of me. In the battlefield at the border, this view is inspiring.” India is obliged to maintain and protect its territorial integrity at all cost.

Indian PM maintained that China was trying to change the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at Pangong Tso and Galwan Valley, and without naming that country, said expansionism always hurt world peace and history was witness that expansionist powers had either been defeated or had to retreat.

“This is the era of development. The whole world has made up its mind against expansionism,” Modi said, addressing the soldiers at Nimu, a forward Army base 35 km east of Ladakh’s capital Leh. He said India’s enemies had seen the courage of the Army’s Leh-based 14 Corps, also known as Fire and Fury Corps. “Our enemies have seen your fire and also your fury,” said the PM, wearing a 14 Corps cap.

Citing the Gita shloka Veer Bhogya Vasundhara (The brave shall inherit the earth), which is also the motto of the Army’s Rajputana Rifles, the PM said the weak can never initiate peace, as bravery is a pre-requisite. He said India was modernising its weapons, upgrading its infrastructure and enhancing its strength in land, sea, air and space warfare.

Nimu, on the Indus banks, is surrounded by the Zanskar range at an elevation of 3,140 metres (10,300 ft), about 186 km short of Galwan Valley. The PM interacted with personnel of the Army, Air Force and ITBP. He also met Indian soldiers injured in the clash with Chinese soldiers on June 15 at the Leh Military Hospital. “We will never bow to any power of the world,” Mr Modi told the injured jawans. Modi also visited the Hall of Fame Museum, which is run by Indian Army in Leh. He paid tribute to the soldiers killed in action during Galwan Valley clash.

Modi’s Leh visit is also seen as a message to his domestic critics who criticised his alleged weak approach towards China despite reports of its unrelenting aggression at the LAC and belligerence in the Galwan Valley. It is also a huge morale booster to the armed forces that the government and the people of the country are fully backing them.

The clear warning by the Prime Minister to China from the battleground shows India’s hard-hitting intention, while drawing the attention of several other countries in the region, who are facing similar problems vis-à-vis the Chinese. In other words, Modi has taken the lead, so as to become the rallying point for any anti-China front that could be forged by the affected countries, including Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia and Taiwan.

Although Modi in his characteristic style used the opportunity of identifying himself with his strong constituency, which shares his belief in nationalism, while concurrently signalling that there was little scope for de-escalation unless the Chinese post-haste pulled out from areas which did not belong to them.

Modi’s sudden visit and presence in Ladakh meant that the situation is serious than what it is thought to be, and the time had come to go in for concrete action. Military negotiations and diplomacy seemingly have so far made no headway. Most foreign policy experts believe that India needs to take a firm position for the Chinese to comprehend that they could not continue with their devious designs. Modi, precisely, has done so. His assertive stance in his address to the armed forces has conveyed India’s preparedness to face the enemy, and as such it would be a wooly to downplay its significance during this highly surcharged atmosphere.

Geo-political think tanks opine that the government should have displayed a similar response several weeks earlier, when the Chinese had intruded into the terrain in the Galwan Valley region, completely disputing the possession of areas belonging to India. However, though little late, this reaction would meet its objective and India shall triumph.

Ashok Bhan is Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India.